The Book Reviews – Website

January 18, 2009

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Author: Mildred Taylor

Page Length: 276

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Cassie Logan and her brothers walking to school. Although they are young children, they are aware of the different ways whites and blacks are treated.  Being Negroes, they must walk to school, while the white children ride a bus. Their schoolbooks are worn, discarded rejects from the white children’s school. They even become the subjects of jokes when the bus driver deliberately splashes them with mud as he drives the white children to school.

As the events of the book unfold, repeated incidents of racism are witnessed at school and in the community.  The Logan family lives in fear of the Ku Klux Klan ,but with the influence of Big Ma, Mama, and Papa they cling together to protect the 400 acres they call “their land.”

REVIEW: Many of the events and themes of the story are adult in nature, but Cassie, a fourth grader, tells the book in narrative form. The children must witness their mother being fired as a teacher, grown men being tarred and feathered, and a rebellious friend, T. J., accused of murder.  They learn the viciousness that prejudicial feelings of racism bring. Through the violence, Cassie realizes the importance of family and why “the land” is an endearment they must protect.

This is an awesome book I would recommend it for reading as a class novel.  The character development and setting are excellently described, as well as the drama in the sequence of events.  It is a great book to read in conjunction with a Civil Rights Movement theme.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Conflict, Characters, Setting, Theme, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Land, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, A Time to Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), A Time to Kill (1996), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


January 17, 2009

Leon’s Story

Leon’s Story

Author: Leon Tillage

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: This is Leon Tillage’s story of his life, as he remembers it from 1936 in North Carolina.  Leon’s family lived on a farm where his dad was a sharecropper.  This was a time when African American children began school at the age of six, but the school was not integrated and the supplies and facilities were not near as nice as what was provided for the white children of the community. 

This lifestyle of being discriminated against is the life that Leon remembers.  His parent’s didn’t question the way they were treated.  Jim Crow laws were in effect and if the black family did not abide by them the KKK would visit them.

After some drunken teenagers killed Leon’s dad and Martin Luther King Jr. visited Leon’s school, Leon became a part of the Civil Rights Movement against his mother’s wishes.  Leon could no longer accept the treatment and injustices that were being dealt to the members of the black community in the southern United States.  

REVIEW: This was a touching book as it was written in the dialogue in which Leon Tillage told it.  Leon is a custodian in an elementary school today.  This autobiography was written because of the story Leon shared with some third grade elementary students of that school.  The book exposes the cruelty of racism after the Civil War and prior to the Civil Rights Movement.  It shows the strength and courage that African Americans of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s endured to survive.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Point of View, Compare/Contrast, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry, Rosa Parks, Mississippi Morning


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Author: Camilla Wilson

Page Length: 74

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography   

PLOT SUMMARY: Rosa Parks was always concerned with black Americans being treated equally.  As a young girl, Rosa was disciplined by her mother for threatening a white boy.  After receiving a scholarship to Miss White’s School for Girls in Montgomery, Rosa learned there was more segregation in the large city than her small hometown.  Rosa married Raymond Parks in 1932.  She was attracted to Raymond, partly, because of his involvement with the famous Scottsboro case.  While she worked as a seamstress, Rosa spent her lunches and evenings working actively in several black organizations.  She wrote letters and advocated the right to vote for both African Americans and women.

One day after long hours at her job, she boarded a bus that was full of both whites and blacks.  She sat towards the middle of the bus with three other black women.  When a white man got on the bus, the driver told the black women to move to the back.  Rosa refused to move, which caused her arrest.  She went to trial and was found guilty.  She had to pay $23.  However, the bus companies of Montgomery were the actual ones who had to pay.  Rosa’s arrest and subsequent trial caused the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 380 days and started the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.

REVIEW: This is a brief story of Rosa Park’s adult life.  It tells of her involvement in gaining equality for African Americans that she worked for her entire life.  The book would be a good supplement to a study of the Civil Rights movement or in conjunction with the realistic fiction book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Bus Ride to Justice, Rosa Parks: My Story, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It,

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Rosa Parks Story (2002), Heroes of Freedom: Harriett Tubman and Rosa Parks (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 12, 2008


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Author: Karen Hesse

Page Length: 161

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction written in Verse

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting of the story is in Vermont, in 1924.  Ten characters of the small community tell the story in verse.  It is the story of two young girls, Leanora, an African American whose mother has died, and Esther who is Jewish.  Neither is welcome in the community anymore because it has fallen under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan.  The other characters range in age from teen-ager to middle 60’s.  Some of the characters refuse to join the Klan and others become active.  With the Klan growing, violence increases.  However, the community eventually pulls together to find hope and redemption.

REVIEW: The setting of the story surprised me, in that, I was not aware the Ku Klux Klan was active in the North.  The story is told in verse, and could be read aloud as a play. The characters are vivid not only in their descriptions but also in their actions.  Each of them distinctly reflects a response that would be typical of real life when an influential association infiltrates a community.  Although set in the early 1900’s, this would be a good novel to study in conjunction with study of Hitler’s influence over the Nazi party and the Civil Rights Movement in America.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Some violence but it correlates with the theme of the book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Verse writing, Theme, Conflict, Historical Context, Setting, and Character

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill a Mockingbird, A Time to Kill

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), A Time to Kill (1996)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 1, 2008

The Glory Field

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The Glory Field

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This novel tells the story of generations of the Lewis family. The story begins in West Africa in 1753 when Muhammad Bilal is captured, bound, and taken on a ship. Young Muhammad longs for his family, watches many of his shipmates die, and wonders what his own fate will be. He longs for his freedom. Next we meet, Moses and Joshua Lewis on a South Carolina plantation in the year 1864. They too are on a dangerous quest for freedom no matter what the cost. The story continues across the family tree in each generation concluding in modern times. The Lewis family must summon all of their strength and courage to overcome hardships that continue to present themselves in different forms to each generation.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the historical perspective this book provided. Myers did an exceptional job of helping the read feel the struggles of each generation. He truly relays how arduous the struggle for equality has been for African Americans. Different generational stories are told by both the males and females of the family – making the book equally appealing for all students. The novel is rich with historical connections and would make an excellent teaching tool.

The one thing I found hard to follow at times – or really that I wish he had done differently would have been to follow one specific family line all the way through instead of taking different characters along the way. However, the stories are woven together well; sometimes, just glancing back at the family tree diagram helps the reader keep it all together in their mind.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: author’s purpose, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, compare/contrast, sequence of events, symbols (shackles),  point of view, causes and effects

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: whippings, slavery, prejudice, cruelty, drugs

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple, Gone With the Wind, Up From Slavery, If You Lived When There was Slavery in America, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

RELATED MOVIES: “Gone With the Wind,” “Roots,” “The North and the South,” “The Color Purple,” PBS – “Slavery and the Making of America”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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